Trend Deviation in Freight Transportation

Freight movement as measured by the BTS Freight Transportation Services index is down, relative to trend.

Figure 1: BTS Freight Transportation Services Index, in logs, HP filtered (blue), and Hamilton filtered, using two years lead-lag span (red). NBER defined recession dates shaded gray. Source: BTS via FRED, author’s calculations.

January figures are not out yet, but if the Cass Freight System numbers are any guide, they will show a decline (I use a first diffs log specification between the BTS series and CPI deflated expenditures series to predict January).

Figure 2: BTS Freight Transportation Services Index, in logs (light blue), and estimated (blue square).  January based on first differences regression on Cass deflated expenditures index. Source: BTS, Cass Freight Systems, via FRED, author’s calculations.

These trends are consistent with decreased movement in goods that is associated with the manufacturing sector recession, as well as the decrease in international trade. I do not think the impact of Covid-19 should be showing up much even in the January estimate.

14 thoughts on “Trend Deviation in Freight Transportation

    1. rjs

      the distillate demand downturn reflects the mild winter…it’s used for home heating from the northeast through PA & Ohio

  1. Moses Herzog

    We have a railroad track that goes basically straight through the middle of town. It’s a north-south track (at least on that portion) and it isn’t two blocks from downtown. So, it kinda shuts things down or creates a lot of diversion of traffic (There’s only like 2-3 roads you can get past the track when there’s a train there). All I can tell you is it seems to follow the general economy pretty closely (I can imagine the chuckling of people as they read this). Within the last week and a half the trains going past have really gone down in number. I can hear the horns where I live, so even when not driving about I can gauge that pretty well. Do I think it’s COVID-19 related?? Obviously not, whatever freight is on that track was probably ordered/scheduled days or weeks ago. It’s gone down since late November, and tapered off ever so slowly since. I think it does mean something for the general economy, even accounting for a Christmas drop-off. Here is what I will say, If either of the next official BEA quarterly GDP numbers are over 2%, I will be shocked as hell. Truly surprised.

  2. Moses Herzog

    I guess “the good guys with guns” were busy today. When they found the man, after he shot multiple people, he was already dead from a self-inflicted gunshot. Oh well, the NRA will be there to save the day next time:

    The NRA wants you to know, if the bad guy hadn’t shot the bad guy, this could have been much worse, Thank goodness the bad guy had a gun on hand to shoot the bad guy. This news sponsored by MAGA red dunce caps. Are you dumb?? Do you have an IQ just slightly above qualifying as Down syndrome?? That’s all it takes to be a MAGA member. Join us today.

  3. Moses Herzog

    Kids, don’t try this at home. It could be hard on your neck or upper spine. Brings back memories of my idiot colleague in China, who after the 15th consecutive time I gave him the same exact body temperature to the decimal point, called me and told me he knew something funny was going on. I could have given him different temperatures, I just wanted to know how long it would take for him to say something:

    Did you doubt me when I said my university thought the answer to SARS was gifting a basketball to students, giving them all sulphur soap that they never carried on their person, and doing a “lockdown” on a campus that had 3 separate broken parts on the exterior fencing where you would never go 15 seconds without seeing some student hopping in or out of the campus where there was no “checkpoint”?? Of course there’s no way they could know that…..say by just doing a walk around, identifying breaks in the fence, and then monitoring the 3 broken parts in the fence. That might have taken some kind of “worK’ by someone. But don’t worry folks, no one with COVID-19 went to a province outside of Hubei while the Chinese government/police were lecturing doctors for even discussing COVID-19. No way that happened.

  4. StretchChannel

    Being a trainspotter for about 5 years, I regularly visit Buffalo NY”s Frontier Yards (CSX). Most of the time, the yards are largely empty, with an occasional mile-long train parked for a day or 2. But for the last 2 weeks, an unusual situation has arisen. Frontier Yard is packed with railcars used to transport vehicles. In nearby Bison Yards (N/S), the same is true. Are vehicle shipments/sales down dramatically?

  5. AS

    Professor Chinn,
    Would you consider posting your EViews model for the Hamilton filter? I notice that Professor Hamilton analyzing nonfarm payroll used quarterly data and made a model using:
    I have tried several filter input lags trying to duplicate your two-year lead-lag span, but can’t seem to match your Hamilton filter curve.

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Moses Herzog: Since I have to go to each YouTube link to check to see it passes no-profanity no-racism no-misogyny requirements, approval of comments with YouTube links will likely be somewhat delayed relative to others.

      1. Moses Herzog

        I was light-heartedly teasing Menzie, I am aware that causes hassles for you time wise. I am trying to taper the YT links off. Some are substantive, you have to give me that much. I am not totally unsympathetic on that.

      2. Moses Herzog

        I should also add, that was more intended poking at myself. I know I am “full of it” sometimes, on subjective things anyway.

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